US Senate Republicans rap Energy Department budget request
Washington (Platts)--16Feb2011/503 pm EST/2203 GMT
US Energy Secreatary Steven Chu faced pushback from Republicans on the
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday over the Obama
administration's efforts to ramp up renewable energy spending and cut oil and
gas research in its fiscal 2012 budget request.
The committee's senior Republican, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, said
the 12% spending increase for the Department of Energy would be inappropriate
under the current deficit spending concerns.
"Like just about every member of this committee, I'm deeply concerned
about federal spending," Murkowski said. "To rein in federal spending, we will
need to look at every program -- at every agency -- and the Department of
Energy is no exception."
"I share the desire to promote clean energy technologies, but given the
urgent need to make tough budget decisions, we need to draw a distinction
between the programs we want to fund and the programs we need to fund -- and I
am not entirely convinced this budget request will move us in that direction,"
In the spirit of Obama's pledge to boost funding for "clean energy"
initiatives, the budget request provides an overall boost to DOE, increasing
its budget 12% over 2010 levels to $29.5 billion. It was sent to Congress
Monday. Much of the increase will go to renewable energy research and
development, but the fossil-energy office will see cuts to oil and gas
research, but will still receive $453 million, primarily for carbon capture
and storage technologies.
DOE was one of only several departments -- including Education, Treasury
and Defense -- to get a bump-up in spending.
Chu defended his budget as having made a series of program cuts to stress
the department's priorities. In the budget there were some tough decisions
made," Chu told Senators on the panel.
SKEPTICISM ON BUDGET
Chu got support from Democrats on the committee.
Chairman Jeff Bingaman, Democrat-New Mexico, said the priorities in the
budget request addressed the right priorities, and showed fiscal restraint.
"I complement the secretary for successfully advocating for a budget that
contains much that I support and I hope the Senate can fully fund many of the
research and development initiatives proposed as well as that for the Energy
Information Administration," Bingaman said.
Bingaman, however, joined Murkowski in questioning cuts to fossil-fuel
"We face a long period of transition from our dependence on fossil fuels,
so continued research relating to advanced coal technologies, natural gas, and
unconventional sources of fossil energy is a sensible part of an overall
energy strategy," Bingaman said.
The hearing on the fiscal 2012 budget request comes as the House of
Representatives considers a stopgap spending measure to fund the federal
government from March 4 until the end of the 2011 fiscal year on September 30.
Congress never passed a 2011 appropriations bill and is currently operating
under a continuing resolution that funds the government at 2010 levels.
Some senators expressed skepticism that the budget request would be
passed as written, including Republican Dan Coats from Indiana.
"I think the handwriting is on the wall that these numbers are not going
to be there," Coats said. "My question to you is: Does the department have a
plan B? A plan which is going to have to deal with a much lower."
Chu said if the full budget is not provided, his agencies has priorities
and will "be glad to work with Congress."
Republican senators, including Murkowski, also criticized the
administration for promoting specific energy technologies at the expense of
others through its budget, and through a proposed "clean energy standard." The
standard would mandate the use of technologies in electricity production that
reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as nuclear, renewable and natural gas
power. Natural gas emits about half as much GHGs as coal, and the proposed CES
recognizes that by giving it credit at only half the level of emission-free
technologies such as solar.
"The question is, will it be a technology-neutral standard? ... But when
you look at these budget categories, it seems to me that in the
administration, you are picking those areas, through the budget process, that
you would like to see enhanced," Murkowski said.
But Chu said that a CES would introduce market certainty for developers
investing in new power projects.
"The clean energy standard is meant to be technology neutral, any
technology will advance of using energy in a clean sustainable way is on the
table," Chu said.
--Derek Sands, email@example.com
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